Mark Twain’s Connections to Stone, Campbell
Mark Twain’s Connections to Stone, Campbell

Most devotees of American literature know of Mark Twain’s connections to Hannibal, Mo., but few people in the Stone-Campbell Movement likely are aware of Twain’s connections—through his life in Hannibal—to the movement’s namesake pioneers, Barton W. Stone and Alexander Campbell.

Donald Tingle shared some research on this topic 40 years ago.

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Mark Twain was a part of early restoration history

Tom Sawyer, Barton Stone’s Grandson

By Donald S. Tingle
July 29, 1979; pp. 15, 16

Some of you may stop at Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, Mo., on your way to or from the North American Christian Convention in St. Louis. If you do, there are some interesting facts concerning Twain and the early leaders of the restoration movement that you may want to remember.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens (Mark Twain) was born in the small village of Florida, Mo., November 30, 1835. Since the town had a hundred people (according to Twain) . . . he increased the population by 1 percent. . . . Just twenty months earlier a Christian church evangelist by the name of Thomas had received a strongly favorable response from preaching in the area of Florida. Most of the townspeople had come from Kentucky as Old School Baptists, Presbyterians, or Methodists, but many of them joined the Christian church in the 1830s.(1)

When the family moved the short distance from Florida to Hannibal, young Sam Clemens stepped into a quaint town that was to be the inspiration of much of his later writing. In the stories about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, the characters live in the idyllic village of St. Petersburg. The name was chosen to show how heavenly Hannibal had been [to the author]. . . .

Will Bowen was young Sam’s closest playmate and was included in the band of boys that created The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Dixon Weeter calls Will Bowen “one of the prime ingredients in the composite creation of Tom Sawyer;”(2) naturally, Sam also included himself in the character. A little known fact, however, is that Will Bowen was also the grandson of Barton W. Stone, the famous restoration preacher and the editor of the Christian Messenger. Stone was Tom Sawyer’s grandfather!

Baptism—On one occasion Sam was in Will’s home playing cards (euchre) when Barton Stone arrived unexpectedly. In their haste the boys hid the deck of cards in the sleeve of a “baptizing robe” hanging in the closet. A few days later when Barton Stone was baptizing someone in the river, cards began to float out upon the water—“the first cards being a couple of bowers [the highest-ranking cards in euchre] and three aces.” During their punishment one of the boys stoutly remarked, “I don’t see how he could help going out on a hand like that.” Years later Sam would tell the story as though it had happened to his comic friend, Artemus Ward.(3)

The measles epidemic in chapter 17 of Tom Sawyer is reminiscent of two episodes Sam remembered from boyhood. In the book a measles epidemic hit the town. . . . For two weeks Tom lay dead to the world. During this time a revival came to town and everybody “got religion.” When he recovered, he sought his friends; one was reading a Testament, another was distributing tracts, a third explained to Tom that measles had been a warning, and even Huck addressed Tom with a Scriptural quotation. That was too much for him, and he went home to bed.

That night during a terrible thunderstorm he “covered his head with the bedclothes and waited in horror of suspense for his doom; for he had not the shadow of a doubt that all this hubbub was about him. By and by the tempest spent itself and died without accomplishing its object. The boy’s first impulse was to be grateful, and reform. His second thought was to wait—for there might not be any more storms.” Three weeks later, after recovering from a relapse of the measles, Tom discovered to his great satisfaction that his boyhood friends were back to normal.

One true episode Sam Clemens never forgot was when Will Bowen came down with the measles. Sam decided to come down with them, too, and have done with it. So on two occasions he crawled into bed with Will only to be evicted by Mrs. Bowen (Stone’s daughter). Sam finally did come down with the measles, and a severe case at that.

Revival—Another true episode from which Sam may have drawn for the Tom Sawyer piece mentioned above is the time a Christian church revival hit Hannibal. In his autobiographical notes he made near the end of his life, Sam wrote, “Campbellite revival. All converted but me. All sinners again in a week.”(4)

Captain Samuel Bowen (Will’s father) received Barton Stone into his home in October, 1844, and Stone preached in the area several times. “While there, he was taken sick, and for 7 or 8 days suffered the most acute pain. . . . On Saturday morning at 4 o’clock, Nov. 9, 1844, he fell asleep in the arms of Jesus.”(5) Although Sam Clemens never wrote about the episode, his best friend, Will, must have described the whole tender scene to him. Sam was not yet nine years old.

Samuel Clemens holding a printer’s composing stick; age 15 in 1850; in Hannibal, Mo. Photo by G.H. Jones (retouched). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

When Sam’s father, Judge Clemens, died in 1847, Sam had to go to work as a typesetter. While working for Joseph Ament, Sam got his first big typesetting job. Alexander Campbell came to town and preached. In his autobiography Sam wrote, “When he (Campbell) preached in a church many had to be disappointed, for there was no church that would begin to hold all the applicants; so in order to accommodate all, he preached in the open air in the public square, and that was the first time in my life that I had realized what a mighty population this planet contains when you get them all together.”

Sermon—The townspeople collected sixteen dollars for the printing of one of the sermons. Sam and Wales McCormick set the type. Wales read the proof and discovered that the name Jesus Christ was left out in “a thin-spaced page of solid matter,” and to correct the error several pages of type would have to be reset. This would take up a good part of the afternoon, and Wales wanted to go fishing. “Wales reduced it in the French way to J.C. It made room for the missing words, but it took 99 percent of the solemnity out of a particularly solemn sentence.”

When Campbell read the proofs, he told Wales, “So long as you live, don’t you ever diminish the Saviour’s name again. Put it all in.” So Wales spent the afternoon resetting type, and he even made an addition to the sermon out of devilment.(6) [Note: He changed the Lord’s name to “Jesus H. Christ”.]

After leaving the printing business, Sam tried his hand at riverboat piloting, which was the highest ambition of many boys back then. Since Will Bowen had already followed his father’s footsteps and become a riverman, Sam used Will’s name as a reference when he signed up for Horace Bixby to take him on as an apprentice.(7) In time, Sam was to become one of the greatest pilots of the river, and it was from the river that he chose his pen name Mark Twain.

When the Civil War broke out, Sam’s river days were ended. He joined the Confederate Army for a time, and served with another Bowen boy, Samuel Barton Stone Bowen (named after his grandfather).(8) Sam had enough of army life and left. He later explained that after he deserted, the Confederacy fell.

Sam’s life took some strange turns, and with a mixture of luck and genius, he became one of America’s greatest authors. Mark Twain belonged to the people of the world. But even after success came his way, Sam would still write to Will Bowen, addressing him “My First and Oldest and Dearest Friend.”(9)

Don Tingle ministers with Park First Avenue Christian Church, Bloomfield, Conn.

1 Ralph Gregory, Mark Twain’s First America—Florida, Mo., pamphlet, 1965, pp. 14, 15.

2 Dixon Wecter, Sam Clemens of Hannibal (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1952), p. 140.

3 Ibid., p. 88, 89. Also see Walter Blair, Mark Twain’s Hannibal, Huck & Tom (Berkley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 346.

4 Ibid., p. 88.

5 Christian Messenger, XIV, 317.

6 Albert Bigelow Paine, ed., Mark Twain’s Autobiography (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1924), pp. 279-282.

7 Blair, p. 346.

8 Ibid., p. 347.

9 William Pellowe, Mark Twain Pilgrim from Hannibal (New York: Hobson Book Press, 1945), p. 29.

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A few years ago, Jerry Harris, senior pastor of The Crossing, a megachurch with multiple locations in three states—including a site in Hannibal—also wrote about Twain, Stone, and Campbell.

Like Tingle, Harris shared that Barton Stone died in Hannibal. Harris also excerpted from Robert Richardson’s Memoirs of Alexander Campbell about Campbell’s visit to Hannibal a few months after Stone’s death. Additionally, Harris shared that Stone’s widow, Celia, is buried there in the graveyard Mark Twain “wrote about in Tom Sawyer. Here is where he visualized the death of Doc Robinson at the hands of Injun Joe.”

For more history, read “Rediscovering the Sacred Stones” from 2012.

Jim Nieman, managing editor, Christian Standard

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2 Comments

  1. Sandra Ziegler
    December 12, 2019 at 7:45 pm

    An interesting post, I thought.
    In my childhood, I took advice from Tom Sawyer, rubbed a cut potato on a wart on my hand and buried the potato on the North side of our house under a full moon. I don’t have that wart anymore. what can I say?
    I loved Tom Sawyer and read it several times. Since I’ve been out West, I tried to get my great nephew to watch Huckleberry Finn on tv, but Indian Joe creeped him out.
    Enough nonsense! But thanks for the history.

  2. John Doughty
    December 26, 2019 at 11:59 am

    Mark Twain apparently resented his relatives response to Campbell’s preaching. When Alexander Campbell came to preach in Samuel Clemens’ Missouri town, it had been the largest outdoor gathering of its kind and the residents took up a collection to finance publication of his sermon. The young Twain claimed he was responsible for type-setting the sermon. According to Twain, he and his colleague set the type and realized there was not enough space for a sentence so they decided to abbreviate the name “Jesus Christ.” to “J.C.” Campbell barged in to the print shop with proof in hand and reputedly gave a stern rebuke, “Don’t you ever demean the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Twain remembered that his fishing trip was sacrificed to reset the type, and the incorrigible young man wrote that they decided to teach Campbell a lesson. They reset the Lord’s name with the profane rendering, “Jesus H. Christ.” This anecdote was published in Twain’s autobiography released 100 years after his death. Twain was a reprobate and was by all accounts responsible for his wife Olivia’s apostasy from the Christian faith. While there may be some truth in Twain’s account of his meeting with Alexander Campbell, I believe he was lying and exaggerated the barbed insult ending. Twain said that the amount of money donated was the largest sum he had ever seen. We shared this story back in 2010 upon the release of the autobiography.

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